“The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
According to a letter written by Martin Luther’s youngest son, Dr. Paul Luther, and preserved in the Library of Rudolstadt, Martin Luther (1483-1546) related to his family the story of his conversion. He acknowledged with great joy that it was while he was visiting in Rome that he came to the knowledge of the truth of the gospel.
It happened this way. As multitudes have done, Luther, then a young Saxon monk, lashed by a tormenting conscience and heavily burdened with a load of sin, was ascending the Sancta Scala, or “holy stairs” (twenty-eight broad marble stairs claimed to be the very steps Jesus walked on when sentenced by Pilate in Jerusalem) on his hands and knees, repeating his prayers on each step in hopes of receiving the promised indulgence of the church. In his zeal he had come to make the ascent, hoping thus to be rid of his burden and obtain the favor of God, when suddenly the words of the prophet Habakkuk came forcibly and incessantly to his mind and heart, “The just shall live by faith.”
At once he ceased his crawling, and standing up, descended the “holy stairs.” When he returned home to Germany, he took this Scripture as the chief foundation of all his doctrine. This string of monosyllables that sums up the way of salvation became Martin Luther’s text. He made this great verse, found four times in the Scriptures, with its doctrine of justification by faith, the watchword of the Reformation.
The precious message of the grace of God reached the heart of Martin Luther upon the “holy stairs,” and the burden of unforgiven sin was rolled away. Luther became a new creature in Christ Jesus, and henceforth he rejoiced in preaching in no uncertain words that blessed and soul-emancipating truth of “Justification by Faith” to the joy and blessing of thousands. Boldly he declared publicly,
“I, Doctor Martin Luther, unworthy evangelist of our Lord Jesus Christ, confess this article of faith: THAT FAITH ALONE JUSTIFIES BEFORE GOD, WITHOUT WORKS.”
Dear reader, the precious truth of justification by faith reached and saved Martin Luther. Has it reached you? Luther said, “This text was to me the true gate of Paradise!” It can be the same for you. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
The truth stated simply is that man, being a sinner, is justified by the shed blood of Christ through faith alone—believing in His finished, atoning work on the cross for sin—without the addition of good works, keeping the Ten
Commandments, or ordinances such as baptism, confirmation, or communion.
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).
God declares that Christ’s work is sufficient alone to salvation and that faith alone confers the blessing of complete salvation to the believing sinner now and for eternity. “That [God] might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).